History Of Whiskey, From A Medicine, Currency To A Famed Alcohol
Image Credit: Bottles of whiskey and whisky, Pexels

Whiskey is a popular spirit that has been enjoyed for centuries. However, some lesser-known facts about this drink are worth knowing. For instance, did you know that whiskey was originally used for medicinal purposes? Additionally, the word "whiskey" comes from the Gaelic term "uisce beatha," which means "water of life." Another interesting fact is that the flavour of whiskey can be influenced by the type of wood used in the ageing process. These are just a few of the myriad unknown facts about whiskey that make it an intriguing quencher.

Whiskey is prepared by distilling a mash of fermented grains like barley, corn, rye, or wheat. The aged distilled intoxicant's unique taste, aroma, and amber hue result from extensive time spent in wooden barrels.

What’s behind its name

Whiskey is called whisky because that's what it is. It is a spirit that has been distilled from grains such as barley, corn, or rye. Who gave it that moniker, though, remains a mystery. Some have hypothesised that it derives from the Gaelic phrase for uisce beatha, which denotes “water of life."  Another possible origin is the Old English verb "wyscan," which means "to whisk." It doesn't matter how the name came to be if no one investigates its origins. 

A whisky cocktail, Image Source: iStock

How it makes you feel, and tastes are the only things that matter. There's no denying that a shot of fine whisky may put you in the mood for a night on the town. Raise a glass to the creator of this liquid gold, whether the name has ancient Gaelic or Old English roots or was coined by an astute bartender.

Whisky’s origin, history and evolution

Distillation may have been practised as far back as 2000 B.C. Its origins can be traced back to ancient Mesopotamia, where it was employed to create aromatics and fragrances. Nowadays, this region spans parts of Iraq and Syria. Some place the genesis of whisky between the years 1000 and 1200 AD. It coincides with the time that it took for monks to travel from continental Europe to Scotland and Ireland, carrying with them the art of distillation. Without access to the grapes and vines found on the European continent, monasteries in Scotland and Ireland resorted to fermenting grain mash, leading to the earliest modern whisky distillations.

Thus, whiskey is believed to be invented in Ireland and Scotland in the early 15th century. It was likely first produced in these parts, where monks began distilling grains to make a strong spirit. It was originally used for medicinal purposes and was believed to have healing powers.

Whisky in a glass, Image Source: Unsplash

Whiskey, also known as whisky, has a rich and complex history that dates back centuries. Over time, whiskey production spread throughout Europe. An early reference to "whisky" is found in the Irish Annals of Clonmacnoise, where it is recorded that a clan chief "had a surfeit [large amount] of aqua vitae" on Christmas Day, leading to his death. Old Bushmills Distillery in Northern Ireland was granted a licence in 1608 and is now recognised as the world's oldest legal whisky distillery. Eventually, this boozy libation debuted in the United States. In America, whiskey became a staple of the frontier lifestyle and was even used as a form of currency.

Whiskey as a currency and taxation

After years of distilling their own whisky and realising its worth to the general populace, distillers frequently utilised whisky as cash during the American Revolutionary War. Louisville, Kentucky's first commercial distillery was founded by Evan Williams in 1783 on the banks of the Ohio River. To help pay off Revolutionary War debt, a new excise was implemented about 1791. Since import charges were already high, the new national government instituted a new excise tax on locally manufactured distilled spirits. Although many types of distilled spirits were subject to the excise, the name "Whiskey Tax" stuck due to whiskey's overwhelming popularity.

A man holding currency notes and whiskey glass, Image Source: Pexels

Thus, whiskey was also as a substitute for U.S. dollars and cents in the West when those were in short supply. The whiskey business received a much-needed reprieve when President Thomas Jefferson disposed the despised levy on the spirit in 1802.

Evolution and global patronage

Despite its long and storied history, whiskey continues to evolve and innovate, with new distilleries and flavours emerging every year. Whisky, which comes in a mind-boggling array such as Scotch, Irish, Bourbon, and Rye, is now a global beverage. Although they all have their own distinct tastes and methods of manufacturing, they all honour the same legacy and are committed to excellence. Whether sipped neat or mixed into a cocktail, whiskey remains a beloved and timeless spirit that has stood the test of time.

Whiskey or Whisky decoding the difference beyond spelling

Most people may use the terms whisky and whiskey interchangeably. But there's a good risk that this spirit may take offence if it finds out about it. Can you guess why? Whiskey and whisky are not the same things, despite their similar names. That's not even scratching the surface. The Scotch and the Canadians prefer whisky without the "e," whereas the Irish and the Americans use whisky with an "e." Yet, this is not all. 

Whisk(e)y in a glass over a wooden barrel, Image Source: iStock

Scotch whisky undergoes two distillations and a minimum of three years of ageing in oak barrels, while American whisky typically undergoes only one distillation and can be matured in a wider range of barrels. The answer to the question of which is superior is, of course, subjective. Yet, whatever the case may be, we can all agree on one thing: on a chilly winter night, nothing beats a glass of smooth Scotch whisky. It's subjective. Thus, various people may take conflicting views.